Monday, December 22, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

Welcome to the first annual awards for my choices of heroes of the year. I define "hero" as an ordinary person who, seeing wrong, goes way beyond the call of duty to right that wrong, at any and every cost to him or herself. There are heroes all around us. I see them all the time. I should start with the thousands of loyal Episcopalians across lower South Carolina who refused to take the easy path and follow the erring crowd. I especially admire those who had to leave their beloved old church homes in order to keep the true faith and do the right thing at whatever the cost. They are heroes but they are too many to name individually here. Below is my personal list of the top ten who belong in my new "South Carolina History Hall of Fame." These are in no particular order.

1. CHARLES VONROSENBERG.  No doubt he thought he was going to have a nice quiet retirement in lovely Charleston and enjoy his five beautiful grandchildren. Nevertheless, when duty called, he refused to turn away and take the easy way out. This year he endured hours, days, weeks of awful legal unpleasantness, but refused to give in to negativism. Indeed, as the trial began, he announced a plan for the blessing of same-sex unions. Reconciliation remains his admirable ideal. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina could not have asked for a better bishop.

2. JEFF RICHARDSON. A devout Anglo-Catholic and social conservative, he refused to go along with the conservative majority of the old diocese. He saw to it that St. Stephen's, in St. Stephen, and St. Alban's, in Kingstree, stayed with the real Church. He then picked up a third to serve as vicar, St. Catherine's in Florence, a congregation of faithful that has grown and flourished remarkably under his leadership. He has kept true to his views while nourishing those of his flocks. He is my choice for model priest of the year in South Carolina.

3. H. DAGNALL FREE. At first he went along with the secessionists and kept his desirable post at St. John's on Johns Island. In time, he came to see where he really belonged and made a reconciliation with the mother Church. A family man, he gave up a great deal to sacrifice for the right thing. He is due all the admiration and respect possible, and is the model for the other 102 clergy in South Carolina who were released and removed by the Episcopal Church in 2013.

4. DOLORES MILLER AND FRANCES ELMORE. The prime movers of the Episcopal Church in Florence. When "restricted" Bishop Lawrence appeared in St. John's of Florence in October of 2012, Miller was the only one to confront him to his face and challenge his right to be there. He was not amused but she steadfastly refused to back down. At the first opportunity, Miller and Elmore rallied the dozen devoted Episcopalians in the parish and made their own way against the odds and from scratch. St. Catherine's of Florence is a vibrant, growing, and flourishing congregation today. It would not even be there except for Miller and Elmore. They epitomize the best of the Episcopal laity in South Carolina.

5. STEVE SKARDON. Everyone knows Steve. For many years, he tirelessly provided information and opinion on his blog, scepiscopalians, as almost the lone voice giving the antidote to the nonsense flowing from the old diocesan ruling clique. Without Steve, the public relations initiative coming from Bishop Lawrence and his inner circle would never even have been questioned let alone challenged. Along the way, Steve remained the intrepid informer, refusing to mince words or hold back justifiable punches. He was the invaluable source of information when communicants in South Carolina needed it the most.

6. HOLLY BEHRE. Although employed as the part-time public relations officer for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Behre put in countless hours to keep everyone promptly informed on the latest developments. This was particularly invaluable during the circuit court trial in July. She has even posted practically all the court proceedings of the year including the monumental transcript of the circuit court trial. Sorry Jan Pringle and Joy Hunter, Behre was way ahead of you in communications.

7. WES HILL. Wes Hill? The Trinity School for Ministry professor Mark Lawrence permitted to speak in his diocese? Yes, that Wes Hill. He represented a major and positive change in attitude toward homosexuality among the people who had made that topic the wedge to pry away the majority of the old diocese from the Episcopal Church. Hill argued that homosexuality is a natural, or innate, state. This contradicted the old conservative view that it was a learned condition of choice. Hill also argued that homosexuals should remain "celibate" because, he said, homosexuality is condemned in the Scriptures. However, if one accepts Hill's view of the inborn nature of homosexuality, the next logical step is to see it as God's creation, and therefore good.

8. TOM TISDALE. Chancellor of the diocese years ago, the Church called on attorney Thomas Sumter Tisdale, esteemed descendant of one of the great old families of South Carolina, to come to its rescue once again. He did not refuse. He threw himself wholeheartedly into what he knew would be a long, hard, and terrible legal war against dozens of top-notch lawyers the secessionists had already lined up. He gave it his all and proved a tireless litigator all year long. He knows too that there is much more to come and remains unwavering in his dedication and devotion.

9. PATRICK DUFFY. United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy ruled last January and repeated throughout the year that the (Episcopal) Church Insurance Company of Vermont must provide benefit coverage to the real Episcopal Church diocese (called the Episcopal Church in South Carolina). Duffy had the wisdom to see which side was actually the Episcopal Church side. Some other judges out there seem to have trouble distinguishing the authentic Episcopal Church diocese from the other. Apparently, the ECSC now has sufficient funds to continue the litigation that has been forced on them by the independent diocese's lawsuit. That side is out campaigning among its people for millions of dollars in donations.

10. RICHARD GERGEL. United States Judge Richard M. Gergel in Charleston ordered in November that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. This all but ended the long war against rights for homosexuals, at least in South Carolina. Legal same-sex marriages began in South Carolina on November 19 as dozens of couples across the state started obtaining official marriage licenses. This meant that 35 of the 50 states now permitted same-sex marriage. Among Episcopalians, same-sex couples could now marry legally and also have a blessing of the same-sex union in the church.

These are my personal choices for heroes of the year. There are many others who rightfully belong on this list, and maybe you, reader, are one of them.

With so many fine people of good will surrounding us in 2014 and with our unwavering faith in God, we should all look forward confidently to the new year of 2015. My best wishes for you all, Ron Caldwell.

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